As a young producer’s assistant, then script editor, then head of development, I was too busy working and chasing the next bit of development funding to think about kids. But by 30, I’d built up enough regular freelance script editing clients to risk moving from London to Cornwall with my Cornish partner (who was suffering from London’s distinct lack of surf…)
I was soon running the Cornwall Film Festival, and heading Cornwall Film, the region’s development agency. I felt no sudden maternal urge, my shift towards parenthood had the pragmatism of a project manager: I acknowledged that if children were something I wanted in my future, I’d better start working towards kiddy pre-production before it was too late. I became pregnant just as Cornwall Film approached completion, and if my son hadn’t arrived late, I would have worked right up until that first contraction.
Motherhood changed everything.
My career had provided both my sense of identity and my self worth, and now I had neither. I had absolutely no idea who I was any more. The only thing I was sure of was that I was a failure. I fell back on familiar perfectionist workaholic strategies. I pretended that I had it under control. But I simply couldn’t live up to the impossible expectations I had of myself.
Luckily, I had great support from family and friends, and slowly came to understand that other mums were facing similar challenges. I started to rewrite the stories I told myself about my ‘failures’, and began the journey to find out who I had become.
I returned to script editing in the few hours that my son was in childcare, and built a new partnership with Le Groupe Ouest, co-developing a Cornish-Breton script lab over skype. I worked flexible hours, and just two weeks a year were spent away from my son. In the fug of sleepless nights, breastfeeding problems and self-doubt, I realised that I hadn’t been stripped of my skills after all.
My husband, a location manager, tried to work close to home when he could, and I developed another speculative bid with Le Groupe Ouest that led to the creation of the Cross Channel Film Lab (CCFL), a larger European feature development project that explored the intersection between story, VFX and Stereo 3D. To help make sense of the ongoing challenges and joys of motherhood, and keep my creative juices flowing in my ‘spare’ time, I also started work on a new online project with my own mum: Story of Mum.
I had discovered that if I wanted (and needed) to work, I had to be involved in the creation of projects, designing them in a way that allowed me to pursue my equally vital desire to mother.
With a second child on the way, I invited a past colleague, Mary Davies, to take over the CCFL bid preparation. As my daughter turned one, we began a job share: acting as both UK project co-directors and script editors. The job share meant that our employers gained twice as much expertise and knowledge, the capacity to double up resources at key moments, and the skills and network of a mother who would otherwise have left the industry (yes, that’s me!).
Most importantly, it meant that I was able to work flexibly around my children’s needs, most of the time. I remember the sadness of weaning my daughter so that I could race to run a scheduled workshop in France, but also the time when it was possible to join our annual selection panel by skype so that I could attend my son’s first school nativity: the compromises of working motherhood.
Sometimes I chased that elusive concept of ‘balance’ so unremittingly that I toppled over again, (I often misinterpreted balance as: ‘doing as much as possible in as many different life areas as I can without collapsing’…). When I realised that my priorities and self care had slipped, it always helped to return to my other project, Story of Mum: using creativity to remind mothers (including me) to share their stories and make time to meet our own needs.
Back in 2011, with my 3 month old daughter slung over my shoulder, and my 3 year old son racing madly around the gallery high on cupcake icing, we had officially launched Story of Mum, with funding from 4ip, Feast, and the Arts Council. As time passed, our live workshops and online community developed into a travelling participatory motherhood exhibition that included short films, artwork, stories, photographs and more.
We travelled from Cornwall to the Photographers’ Gallery in London, and on to the Museum of Motherhood in New York. Facilitating diverse rooms of women proudly sharing their gloss-free motherhood stories in inspirational venues like these had a profound impact on me – and changed my career path once more. I had discovered that story skills honed in the film industry could also inspire and support mothers through the biggest changes in their lives.
I still believe in the vital power of storytelling in all its forms – perhaps even more so than before motherhood.
I still believe in the vital power of storytelling in all its forms – perhaps even more so than before motherhood. I continue to script edit regularly, and I love having that direct connection to industry (and to stories that don’t necessarily touch directly on motherhood). But at the beginning of this year, I decided to leave the Cross Channel Film Lab in Mary’s capable hands and focus some more of my energy on developing Story of Mum as a social enterprise.
Five years in, Story of Mum is gently changing the world, one beautiful brave exhausted mother at a time. We support mums who are trying to do it all but often feel inadequate, to explore and reshape their own stories, finding more rest, joy and fulfilment – even when that feels completely impossible. We host Mamas’ Retreats, provide one to one support and coaching, online workshops and e-courses, DIY retreat kits, and all sorts of events.
Motherhood is both hard and exhilarating. It is life-changing, challenging work. And in the modern world, there are few support systems to help us through. Other than spaces like Raising Films, it’s rare to come across accessible stories that teach us how to find real ‘balance’ in our lives, and how to tap into the incredible power that we have as mothers. And those stories are vital. Because when we finally find our voices, care deeply for ourselves, and connect to our strength, we strengthen our families and our communities in turn. And we increase our chances of creating a kinder world together. We need that right now. For ourselves. And for our children.
Pippa has worked as a freelance script consultant since 1999, and developed and delivered the first two phases of the Cross Channel Film Lab as UK Project Director and Script Consultant. Prior to this, she was Project Director of Cornwall Film, a £1.9million EU funded project to develop Cornwall’s film, TV and digital media sector. Festival Director of the Cornwall Film Festival in its second year, Pippa also worked as Development Executive for the Cornwall Film Fund. As Head of Development at Zephyr Films from 1997 to 2002, Pippa developed a slate of features and European co-productions, having joined Zephyr in 1995 and worked in development and production. In addition to script editing, Pippa runs a social enterprise, Story of Mum, that supports mothers to share their voices, rewrite their stories, and find rest, joy and fulfilment. www.storyofmum.com
Photo credit to Pat Kelman and Ian Kingsnorth